Apostolic Fathers

From Academic Kids

The Apostolic Fathers were a small collection of Christian authors who lived and wrote in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries who are acknowledged as leaders in the early church, but whose writings were not included in the collection of Chirstian scripture, the New Testament Biblical canon. The Roman Catholic label Apostolic Fathers has been used since the 17th century (see below) to emphasize that these authors were thought of as being of the generation that had personal contact with the Apostles. Thus they provide a link between the Apostles who knew Jesus of Nazareth and the later generation of Christian apologists and defenders of orthodox authority and developers of doctrine: the Church Fathers.

Contents

Definition of terms

The "Apostolic Fathers" are distinguished from other Christian authors of this same period in that their practices and theology that largely fell within those developing traditions of Pauline Christianity that became the mainstream. By the 4th century, mainstream Christianity, dominated by the interpretation of Paul of Tarsus, was in a position to declare signifigantly different interpretations as heretical. Other early, but not "apostolic" writings have been actively denounced and suppressed in the following centuries and are many are now "lost" works. The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are in a number of genres, some, e.g. the writings of Clement of Rome are letters (called epistles), others relate historical events, e.g. the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and one (the Didache) is a guide for ethical and liturgical practice.

Origin of term

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the use of the term "Apostolic Fathers" can be traced to a 1672 title of Jean Baptiste Cotelier, his SS. Patrum qui temporibus apostolicis floruerunt opera ("Works of the holy fathers who flourished in the apostolic times"), which title was abbreviated to Bibliotheca Patrum Apostolicorum by L. J. Ittig in his edition (Leipzig, 1699) of the same writings. Since then the term has been universally used, especially by Roman Catholic writers. (Other traditions make little distinction between these Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers in general.)

Opposition to term

Not all Christians employ the term "Apostolic Fathers". The authority resonant in the phrase suggests that these writers provide the authentic historical connections to the apostolic generation. For those Christians for whom Church tradition is of comparable weight with Scripture, this is a valuable tool in manipulating discourse, and thus a possible motivation for its use. Christians who believe that a Great Apostasy took place early in the church's history are particularly unlikely to employ this term. In Protestant theology the term is also less used and the writings are less frequently studied.

Works by these authors that are missing today

Only some writings by these church leaders are extant, meaning that copies survive today. Other writings did not survive and exist only as references, in quotations and excerpts, or as literal fragments of parchment or papyrus. These other writings, judged by the early and contemporary church to be of lesser value, are sometimes in different styles and contain different themes than the canonical scriptures and the writings of the apostolic fathers. Themes of of early Christianity absent from the official Apostolic fathers include those of continuing revelation, of "secret" writings, of arcane initiations, and of the public role of women.

Works by contemporaneous authors not considered Apostolic Fathers

The writings from early Christianity during the time of the Roman Empire that are not considered "Apostolic Fathers" include the writings of the desposyni, the apocryphal gospels, the pseudoepigrapha, and the writings of unorthodox leaders, or heretics. The writings of the desposyni, the surviving members of the family of Jesus of Nazareth, including James the Just, have almost completely disappeared. The apocryphal gospels and pseudoepigrapha are, for the most part, later writings that seem to have less historical accuracy than the canonical scriptures. For the part of the heretics, much of what is known about them comes from the Church Fathers' arguments against them.

Relationship to orthodoxy

Within the Pauline tradition that eventually triumphed, but after the time of the Apostolic Fathers proper, some authors addressed their works to people beyond the Christian community and defended the Christian religion against paganism, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. These are considered Apologists. A small number of other authors, now only known in fragments, such as Papias and Hegesippus, were more concerned with the apostolic continuity of the individual churches and their histories. Although some of the minor opinions expounded by the Apostolic Fathers are no longer considered entirely orthodox, their writings provide important evidence for one strain of early Christianity, as well as its intellectual history.

Inclusion on list

The list of Fathers included under this title has varied. Inclusion is strictly based on church tradition, but literary criticism removed some writings formerly considered as 2nd-century, while of all the modern rediscovered writings, only the Didache, discovered in the 1880s, has added one orthodox writing to the list. Chief in importance, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, are three 1st-century Bishops:

  • St Clement of Rome. Clement, third successor to St. Peter as Bishop of Rome, "had seen the blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul] and had been conversant with them" (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, iii, 3).
  • St Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius was the second successor of St. Peter in the See of Antioch (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., III, 36) and during his life in that centre of Christian activity may have met with others of the Apostolic band. An accepted tradition, substantiated by the similarity of Ignatius's thought with the ideas of the Johannine writings, declares him a disciple of St. John.
  • St Polycarp of Smyrna, of whose intimate personal relations with the Apostles there is the strongest Church tradition. Polycarp was "instructed by Apostles" (Irenaeus, op. cit., III, iii, 4) and had been a disciple of St. John (Eusebius, op. cit., III, 36; V, 20) whose contemporary he was for nearly twenty years.
  • Papias would certainly have been one of this group, if his work had not been inexplicably lost.

List of works

Most or all of these works were originally written in Greek. English translations of these works can be found online in the Ante-Nicene Fathers series on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/). Published English translations have also been done by various translators, such as J.B. Lightfoot and Michael Holmes.

External link

de:Apostolische Vter nl:Apostolische Vaders

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